By: Jack O’Keefe
Spread: Vermont -2
6:00 pm Central – UMBC Event Center, Baltimore, MD
Vermont Catamounts (9-3, 9-3)
Since the early 2000’s, there has been no program in the America East Conference more dominant than Vermont. Since 2001, the Catamounts have had only one losing season (2005-06; 13-17). The Catamounts have compiled 17 seasons during that span of 20+ win seasons. Perennial dominance would best describe what the Catamounts have achieved in the last two decades. The Catamounts have made the NCAA Tournament seven times during that span, and the Catamounts have won the America East Tournament or competed in the Championship game 12 times. Domination at its finest. With their First Round win over the #4 seed Syracuse Orange in 2005, that game helped put Vermont on the map for college basketball fans. TJ Sorrentine still gives Coach Boeheim of Syracuse nightmares with what many fans have deemed “The Shot” around the Burlington area.
Given the shortened season, it is impossible for Vermont to win 20+ games this season. I think we can throw an asterisk next to this season though, and still allow Vermont a chance for the 12 consecutive seasons of 20+ wins ride into 2021-22. The Catamounts entered the 2020-21 season with a tall order: replacing the scoring presence from Anthony Lamb. During his tenure at Vermont, Lamb was a two-time America East Player of the Year and the sixth in all-time points scored in Vermont basketball history. Astonishingly, the Catamounts have been able to keep their winning ways without Lamb’s presence. Ryan Davis has emerged as the team’s dependable scorer each game, averaging 18.9 points per game and 6.6 rebounds per game. A pair of senior guards, Stef Smith and Ben Shungu, have been dependable scorers for Vermont this season as well. Smith is averaging 13.6 points per game and Shungu is averaging 10.0 points per game this season.
After dropping three out of their first five games of the season, the Catamounts have gone on a roll, winning their next seven games. Stingy defense has been the difference maker for Vermont this season between a win and loss. The Catamounts are allowing only 61.9 points per game this season (13th in Division-I), and they are 7-1 this season when they hold their opponent to 72 points or less. The three losses that the Catamounts have this season have been by a combined 10 points total, so they have not been “blown out” at any point this season. Along with playing stingy defense, Vermont has been very effective offensively this season. The Catamounts are shooting 46.6% from the field (49th in Division-I) and they are averaging 74.6 points per game this season (79th in Division-I). Without playing any non-conference games this season, it will be difficult to project how Vermont stacks up against the competition. Should the Catamounts make it to the NCAA Tournament, we can expect Vermont to put up a strong showing against their opponent.
UMBC Retrievers (13-4, 9-3)
“Shock it all in college basketball, UMBC makes history in Charlotte!”
Jim Nantz has had many great calls in his broadcasting career, but I think this particular call will resonate with me the most in my lifetime. There are still not enough superlatives to describe what took place in Charlotte, NC on March 16, 2018. For those who love a great upset and like taking a stroll down memory lane, by all means click here to relive the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Love them or hate them, UMBC changed the college basketball landscape going forward. Will we ever see a #16 seed take down a #1 seed again? Maybe, it is definitely possible. Will we ever see a #16 seed win by 20 points over a #1 seed again? Highly unlikely. UMBC could go on to never make the NCAA Tournament again in its program history, and they will still be remembered for their performance on March 16, 2018.
After sputtering with a 16-17 record last season, UMBC looks to be back on their winning ways with a 13-4 record this season. The Retrievers lost their top scorer from last season, KJ Jackson, but they have found a reliable scoring option in Brandon Horvath. Horvath has been putting together very impressive numbers in his final season at UMBC, averaging 14.3 points per game and 8.8 rebounds per game. R.J. Eytle-Rock has been a dependable scoring option, averaging 13.5 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game this season. I have to give a shout-out to the shortest player in Division-I basketball, Darnell Rogers. Rogers stands at only 5’2”, but he does not let his size deter him from being a scoring threat. The Baltimore native is averaging 9.8 points per game this season for UMBC.
After dropping their first outing of the season to Georgetown, the Retrievers went on a winning streak of seven games in a row. The Retrievers were upended by Binghamton in late December, but they went on to win six out of their next eight contests. The Retrievers, much like the Catamounts, rely on tough-nosed defense to lead them to victory each time out. UMBC is only allowing their opponent to score 63.8 points per game this season (33rd in Division-I) and teams are shooting the ball 38.6% from the field against the Retrievers (6th in Division-I). Unlike Vermont, UMBC has not been as efficient on the offensive side of the ball this season. The Retrievers are averaging only 69.2 points per game (209th in Division-I) and they are shooting 44.1% from the field (146th in Division-I). The Retrievers have been dominating the glass this season, pulling down 26.8 defensive rebounds per game this season (24th in Division-I). Limiting teams to one shot per possession seems to be the bread and butter formula for Coach Odom.
The line has been shifting all morning since this preview has been composed, so I apologize in advance if you are unable to get the point total of what I have at the start of the preview. I am going with Vermont and laying the points. I think Vermont is the more dominant team here on both sides of the ball, and with no fans in attendance, there is no real “home court” advantage. Vermont has won the last three out of four matchups between these two teams, each one coming by a margin of seven or more points per win. Vermont has not covered in two straight after covering four in a row, while UMBC has covered in two straight following a 2-6 ATS streak. I feel like Vermont will have a comfortable win on the road here, so I would be comfortable laying up to five points for this one. As it stands though, I will take Vermont -2 as my best bet.
Jack’s 2020 CBB picks: (20-18)
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